Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Afghanistan, Bananistan

By Alan Caruba

Though it pains me deeply, I have to agree with President Obama’s reluctance to send more troops into Afghanistan.

Perhaps he is thinking about the problems the Soviet Union encountered even though they had an estimated 100,000 troops there in the 1990s? Perhaps he is wondering why the United States has been there now for eight years with not much to show for it?

I am not interested in the “politics” of the President’s decision whether to stay, to increase troop strength, to maintain the current status, or to leave. Only leaving makes any sense and I worry that Obama may want to avoid looking like a wimp by pulling out.

To those that argue that leaving will embolden the Taliban or al Qaeda, may I respectfully suggest they don’t need anything to feel that way other than their fanatical belief in Islam.

Then there is the nasty little problem called Hamid Karzai and his government of Afghanistan; the one that stuffed the ballot boxes so blatantly in a recent election even the United Nations could not ignore it. As for his government, it ends at the city line of Kabul.

In the event you missed the news this week, we are bleeding troops there at an indefensible rate. Meanwhile, in Iraq, al Qaeda or some other group blew up a chunk of the presumably secure “Green Zone” in Baghdad, killing some 165 people, in order to undermine confidence in their current government. Another car bomb just went off in Pakistan; hardly news in a region where car bombs are the calling cards of every insurgency.

That’s what Arabs do. They may not like dictatorships, but they give ample evidence of being incapable of self-governance. The Ottoman Turks controlled the region from the 18th century until the demise of their empire following World War One. What we call the Middle East is largely the invention of the British and French.

Egypt has been run by Mubarak since 1981. The Assad family seized control of Syria in 1963. Iran has been run by the mullahs since 1979. Iraq was run by Saddam Hussein from 1979 until deposed by an American invasion in 2003.

Saudi Arabia has been run by Ibn Saud and his offspring since the 1920s and this is the case of the smaller emirates.

They are, as one diplomat described them, “tribes with flags.”

Afghanistan has been around since the days of Alexander the Great and he had a terrible time there. Every invading colonizing power that has ventured into Afghanistan has had a bad time. All eventually left.

We should, too.

Putting aside the likelihood that we can “win” a war of insurgency (Vietnam anyone?) there is one compelling reason why the U.S. should not waste its time, its treasure, and the lives of its brave troops there. The reason is oil. And Afghanistan does not have any.

In fact, about the only thing Afghanistan has are poppy fields for the purpose of producing heroin, its primary export.

Afghanistan does not have a stable government and what government it will have, no matter how many “elections” it holds, will be utterly and completely corrupt because that’s how business is conducted in a place that predates medieval Europe and most other nations.

The notion that the U.S. or NATO can or should engage in “nation building” in a place that’s been run by competing warlords and tribal chieftains ignores centuries of evidence to the contrary.

Though I do not credit Obama or the people around him with much intelligence, it could be they have looked at a map of the Middle East and concluded that Pakistan is the real problem. Only in recent months, despite having had billions of U.S. dollars poured into its coffers over the past decade, has Pakistan begun to marshal its military to attack the strongholds of al Qaeda and the Taliban in a frontier area adjacent to Afghanistan.

The reason for this is two-fold; the Pakistanis have been reluctant to venture into their frontier areas because it is full of fanatical Muslims and it is an area, like neighboring Afghanistan, in which it is difficult to conduct military operations.

Secondly and far more important to the Pakistanis is their belief that their other neighbor, India, is set to invade any minute of any day. They have believed this since becoming a nation specifically for Muslims in 1947, carved out of former Indian territory.

Did I mention there is no oil in Afghanistan? From the 1920s, following the demise of the Ottoman Empire that ruled the Middle East, the great powers, Russia, England, France and America, have butted heads over the region. The reason was oil.

While Afghanistan has been around forever, Iraq is a colonial invention of the British, as is Jordan. Syria and Lebanon were handed over to the French. The control of Iran, formerly Persia, changed hands between the British and Americans until the Islamic Revolution in 1979 turned it into a mad house run by mullahs.

So, President Obama is right to hesitate about sending more troops to Afghanistan and he will be right if he pulls out. It is doubtful the Russians will want to return any time soon.

After eight years in Afghanistan and Iraq, the American military, a force composed of volunteers, is very tired and is very much in need of a rest as well as replenishment of just about everything needed to wage war.

Since the end of World War Two, the U.S. no longer fights wars to win. The Korean peninsula is still a stalemate. We now have embassies in Vietnam instead of armies. And the peoples of the Middle East are sick of us, no less than of our allies too.

It is time to leave Afghanistan and it has been time to leave for a very long time. Come on, Mr. President, do just one thing right.


brendafay2410 said...

Afghanistan/Pakistan is a snake pit stuck in the 5th. Century and as you said no country has been able to do anything there but get bloodied and eventually leave. I can not understand why Obama didn't pull out immediately upon taking office. But then he had beat bush with the "wrong war" cry so I suppose he felt obligated. His obligation however has cost American lives! I am a military wife and mother so I do agree with and understand the need for war and a strong defense. I can not agree with half measures where the lives of our soldiers are concerned. Morale in this area is verging on that of Vietnam from the letters and emails I am receiving. Brenda Bowers

Alan Caruba said...

Thank you for sharing your insights, Brenda. I have no doubt that morale is low.

Iraq should be given a chance to survive, but Afghanistan's a nightmare and always has been.

Buzzg said...

I say let 'em have the God forsaken moonscape. Our troops could be far more effective on our southern border than over there. There never has been a functioning government in the country other than the numerous 'warlords', and the on going farcical election is a fair testimony to the fact that there probably never will be. It makes no sense to attempt to secure such a large area with an insufficient number of troops.
I think it would be fitting prior to leaving that the poppy fields be destroyed, thereby eliminating a major world source of drugs which provide the major economic base to the Taliban.
Frankly, I don't think Obama is really quite as concerned with what happens there as he is with what sort of political capital he will gain or lose by whatever decision he makes. Cynical? Of course. I don't pay much attention to what he has said, because he is the consumate liar. I watch what he does, and if that doesn't make you cynical nothing will.
It's a travesty that our troops have to suffer, both emotionally and physically, the consequences of this egomaniac's dithering.

Malcolm said...

I believe there are conservatives that think increased troops would help, and others who think we should leave. Afghanistan . I think the difference is, there are some including me that believe that there are moderate muslims but there is no such thing as moderate Islam. As some said you can rent a Afghan but you cannot buy him. There is no room for the infidel

Charles A. said...

I must respectfully disagree with your article concerning leaving Afghanistan. I need to give some background first: I am a retired army officer who spent my entire career in the combat arms.

The problem with leaving Afghanistan is what will happen after we leave. The Taliban will return to the country and do all of the things that the west dislikes. We will hear both conservatives and liberals complain about how bad it is, and they will insist we talk to the Taliban to attempt to get them to moderate their views. The second thing that will happen is that al Qaeda will return to Afghanistan and begin to operate training camps for the purpose of attacking the west. I respectfully request that you read Walid Phares’ book entitled “Future Jihad.”

In comparing the war with Viet Nam and other attempts to conquer Afghanistan, several fallacies are created: Alexander the Great, the Mongols, and the British all faced an enemy with equal mobility and fire power. The Soviets would have won had it not been for the United States’ intervention with weapons and money, just as the Chinese and Soviets aided the North Vietnamese. In the present war, we have far greater mobility, fire power, and no large external power is aiding the Taliban. What appears to be a real problem is the lack of effective NATO/other allied nations support for combat operations. Only the US, Britain, Canada, and Australia provide effective combat forces. The other problem is the lack of education of the Afghan Army/Police. It is difficult to effectively train people in the use of modern weapons and tactics without an educated recruit base ( I tried in 1982 in Yemen with limited success). Just as in Korea, this is a long term commitment, of at least a generation.

Alan Caruba said...

Charles, you make a number of points that are hard to disagree with, but I pause when you suggest this will take a generation of American involvement to resolve. I don't think we have the time, the manpower or the money to take on that kind of committment in Afghanistan. Or that it is worth it. Will the U.S. be attacked again at some time? Probably. Will we respond as we did in 2001-2? Probably. But right now I think the real battle is here at home to preserve the Republic.

Buzzg said...

Charles A.:
I could agree wholeheartedly with you if I had any faith that our Dear Leader had any stones. That he doesn't is painfully obvious by his avoidance of the critical issue of swift additional troop deployment. I don't believe he desires an outcome beneficial to the Afghanis or the U.S.
It's been a long time since any President or Congress paid anything but lip service to the Generals they employ.
Our military, even with adequate "boots on the ground", are burdened by 'rules' of engagement, and 'politically sensitive' commanders who would rather avoid a mistake than be aggressive and get the job done. Where's General Patton when you really need him?
It would be a different situation if Petraeus and McChrystal were really in charge. Since they're not I cannot see the wisdom of continuing to undermine troop morale and keep them in harm's way while Nero fiddles.

Ron H. said...

Alan, I agree that we should leave Afghanistan.

I don't disagree with Obama's reluctance to send more troops there, but I have a big problem with his inability to make a decision. When he suggests that we thoughtfully and carefully consider what the best strategy should be in Afghanistan, it almost sounds like this is a new problem that has just now popped up on his radar screen. I can almost hear him saying:

"Oh, ya, I forgot. we still have something going on in Afghanistan. I was so busy trying to get the Olympics to Chicago, that it completely slipped my mind."

I think it is his job as Commander In Chief to be current at all times on these matters and be prepared to make informed decisions quickly.


Ron H. said...

In hindsight, which of course is always 20/20, I believe that invading Afghanistan as we did, after weeks of negotiating and building support from allies and the UN was a mistake. This delay allowed bin Laden and Al Queda to move out of harm's way and into hiding.

I feel certain that our intelligence agencies pretty well knew who was responsible for the 9/11 attacks within a very short time. After all, bin Laden had declared war on the US in 1996, had told us he would hit us on our own soil, and was most likely responsible for the previous embassy attacks, and the attack on the USS Cole.

A better response might have been a immediate overwhelming blow to any and all suspected Al Queda training camps, compounds, and anything else with an Al Queda label on it, without regard for borders or permissions. Such a response might have caused others wishing us harm to think harder about the cost to themselves. We could then have, at our leisure, made our apologies to the nations whose sovereignty we had disrespected.


Louise W said...

It is time to leave Afghanistan. At this point there is little to be gained as Alan pointed out. I would think that eight years is enough.

The Middle East will never have a democratic form of government. They simply don't see the need to become a republic. They are stuck in a time warp and most likely will stay there.

Bring out troops home and let the Middle East sort out their own problems. They don't want our solutions so it's time to go.